‘Harsh but fair’: New distracted driving penalties come into effect in Manitoba

Driving is a part of life for Anna Klassen. She uses her car to get to work, run errands, and meet up with friends. Even though she knows it’s wrong, Klassen said she has checked her phone while driving.

“I don’t do it often, but it is a terrible habit,” said Klassen. “You’re always like, ‘Oh, just the one time.’”

The province is now cracking down on distracted drivers and has tripled the fine and upped the penalties.

Starting Nov. 1 Manitoba drivers caught using a cellphone or other handheld device while behind the wheel will face a $672 fine, which is up from the previous $203 fine. They will also be handed a three day license suspension beginning the next day and five demerit points.

If a driver is caught distracted a second time within ten years of their first offence they will receive a seven day suspension and will have to surrender their license immediately. Officers will have to notify Manitoba Public Insurance, and drivers will have to pay a $50 license reinstatement fee.

Cellphones and GPS devices aren’t the only electronics that could lead to fines.

“The new watches that allow you to make phone calls and texts without a cellphone nearby would fall into the category because they are capable of email, texting and sometimes cellphone conversations, and it requires your hands to operate it,” said Insp. Gord Spado of the Winnipeg Police Service.

Spado said devices configured for hands-free operation can still be used.

“In order to do that, it must be mounted securely on a dash mount,” said Spado. “You can touch the device once to either initiate, accept or end a telephone call. That’s the only time.”

If you’re using GPS, Spado said you must program it before hitting the road.

“If your vehicle is on the roadway in a lane that’s normally used for travel whether you’re stopped in traffic or at a red light, a train, anything like that, you cannot touch your phone,” said Spado.

Klassen hopes the new penalties will be enough to stop distracted drivers, herself included.

“It’s a good deterrent because as much as you know it’s wrong, and you’re always really quick, it’s that one time that makes a difference,” said Klassen. “Harsh but fair.”

According to MPI there were 15,000 distracted driving collisions last year, which is up from 2,400 in 2011. MPI said 30 people were killed and 184 seriously hurt in these types of crashes in 2017.

“Everyone who travels on a Manitoba roadway should have expectations to do so safely,” said Brian Smiley with MPI. “Drivers who text or use their cellphone while driving are risking the lives of innocent motorists and their passengers.”